The news from "the first 'Sesame Street' movie ever" is "why did they bother?" "Follow That Bird," which opens today at area theaters, is not only the most innocuous, soporific movie of the summer, but the most innocuous children's movie in years. Any resemblance between it and the various Muppet films is merely intended, not realized.
What might have been an adequate 10-minute sketch on television is here transposed to the wide screen for 88 numbing minutes. Big Bird, not the most scintillating presence on screens large or small, is plucked from "Sesame Street" by the well-meaning Feathered Friends Society and plunked down hundreds of miles away with his own kind (sort of), the aptly-named Dodo family (the kids are named Donny and Marie).
Unhappy, missing his friends, Bird opts for running away and heading home. That old gang of his, meanwhile, sets out to intercept Bird even as a gang of churlish carnival owners decides to capture and exhibit the eight-foot blunder.
Not too exciting, particularly when this mild bunch plays everything in slow emotion. Maybe it's Bird's molasses disposition, or the pathetic script by Tony Geiss and Judy Freudberg, or the cloying songs by Van Dyke Parks and Lennie Neihaus, or . . . actually, everyone gets the blame here. It's hard to imagine children getting any kick out of this. Compared to the television show, Sesame Movie is maddeningly inept.
"Follow That Bird" is basically the kiddie version of every chase film that's cluttered up movie screens since "Smokey and the Bandit." Which means lots of cameos. Sandra Bernhard, John Candy, Chevy Chase, Paul Bartel and Waylon Jennings are all ballyhooed in the ads, but their appearances are so brief -- two or three lines -- that they may be able to sweep this experience under the rug.
Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas are given a little more to work with as Sid and Sam Sleaze, the crooked carnies, but are as wasted here as they have been since their days on "SCTV."
As for Luis, Susan, Maria, Gordon and the rest of the human gang, and Bert, Ernie, Grover and the rest of the puppet troops, they're all there, featured much more prominently than they're advertised. One is reassured at the voices and presence of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, but one also wonders if they realized what a bad film was being made.